Monday, May 5, 2008

Flowering Dogwoods, Missouri's State Flower

Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida) is currently in peak bloom at Powell Gardens. Powell Gardens has an extensive collection of dogwoods, certainly one of the best in the Heartland. The main display is along the walk from the Visitor Center to the Island Garden; officially known as the dogwood walk where one can see about every tree type of dogwood that will grow in Greater Kansas City.
Dogwoods are valuable for their long bloom time and ability to perform well under old, established trees. They are superior wildlife plants with lipid rich, red fruit in the fall that nourish many a migrating bird! Their fall color is one of the best in our region--beginning as early as late September with some burgundy highlights to the leaves and ending in early November with leaves a rich red.

Pink Flowering Dogwoods can be see at the upper portion of the dogwood walk because their flowers contrast nicely with the light colored stone of the building. The pink dogwood on the left is the cultivar 'Cherokee Brave' while the one on the right is a seedling "pink" dogwood. When buying a pink dogwood, if you do not purchase a specific cultivar you will get a range of colors from deep to light pink. I like that effect as some of our "pink" dogwoods are the reddest flowering ones we have while others are a sweet, soft pink. If you are picky about the color, buy them when they are blooming!

A closeup of 'Cherokee Brave' pink dogwood reveals rich bracts that open almost red but will eventually fade to a near coral pink. The top photo is five days older than the next, showing the bract's color aging. The actual flowers are at the center of the four bracts--closed on the first image but open on today's shot. Cherokee Brave is also the only one with a noticeable and wonderful heliotrope fragrance to its blossoms. Cherokee Brave is quite hardy for us and one of the most disease-resistant cultivars, though fears of dogwood anthracnose are not an issue in our climate because cool springs like we are currently experiencing are rare.

Cloud Nine Flowering Dogwood is one of the best white flowering cultivars. It is a dense tree with large flowers of overlapping bracts -- more adapted to full sun situations than other cultivars in our region.

Hohman's Gold Flowering Dogwood is the best yellow variegated cultivar with beautiful white bracts.

Cherokee Sunset Flowering Dogwood is the best pink flowering, yellow variegated dogwood. Yes, its leaves are resistant to scorch and will be beautiful in all but our most droughty summers.

Weeping Flowering Dogwoods (cultivar 'Pendula') are a cultivar we do not recommend. The downward facing flowers are not very showy and the tree looks disheveled all summer. We do like its stiffly weeping silhouette in the winter. Paul Cappiello, the author of Timber Press' book called "Dogwoods" calls this cultivar "a '76 Dodge Dart on blocks!"--not a pretty sight.

Flowering Dogwoods are premier trees but not easy to transplant. They are worth the extra care. Here are some tips about growing dogwoods in Greater Kansas City:

Balled and Burlapped Trees transplant better!

If you buy a dogwood grown in light barky mix in a pot, be sure and break up the root mass and shake out some of the soil to mix with your existing topsoil. This will help your plant root into the new soil.

Dogwoods are native to open, upland woods or woodland edges. Plant dogwoods in a well-drained site in soil rich in organic matter. Afternoon shade is best but there are exceptions. A site protected from our scorching hot southwestern winds and sun is helpful this far west. Protection from fiercely cold northwestern winter winds is also beneficial during a hard winter. We are just 2 counties west of where dogwoods grow wild but they are beginning to naturalize into our area as birds pass their seeds into our woodlands.

Dogwoods are drought tolerant once established but recent droughts have set many trees back and killed some of Powell's wild trees. During a severe drought, simply let a hose trickle at the base of the tree overnight. Just one night of doing this could have saved many trees I saw destroyed by the recent catastrophic droughts (2003, 2006--and last summer in some areas!). Established trees at Loose Park continue to thrive with no extra care. Richard Heter, our Horticulturist in charge of the dogwood walk regularly gives our trees an overnight drink during our recent droughts. He will tell you they need a lot of water in recent years and our trees are less than 10 years old.

Plant cultivars or strains proven for our region. Wild dogwoods from the western edge of their range like the Warsaw, Missouri area are very adapted here but nurseries do not sell wild types. 'Ozark Spring' (from Oklahoma) and 'Prairie Pink' (from Kansas) are two cultivars that are proven hardiness and adaptability to easternmost Kansas and western Missouri. Ozark Spring is hard to propagate so rarely available (Powell's tree came from Family Tree Nursery), Prairie Pink should increase in availability in the future as major growers in Oregon are now propagating the tree.

Here are some of the best cultivars from local nurseries:
White flowering:
'Cloud Nine' -- proven hardiness, large white bracts overlap.
'Cherokee Princess' -- huge white flowers that open a wonderful lime green, likes some wind protection because of the large flowers.
'Ozark Spring' -- lovely notched, smaller bracts but better in windy area.

Pink flowering:
Most will do ok in sheltered locations as long as they are not shipped in from too far south. 'Prairie Pink' will be a great cultivar when it becomes more widely available;
'Cherokee Brave' -- almost red new bracts fade to a deep pink then almost coral pink, fragrant too!

"Red" flowering:
'Cherokee Chief' is the standard "red dogwood" with bracts that do open almost ruby red but fade to deep pink.
'Sweetwater Red' is almost impossible to find anymore but a good red too.

Yellow variegated leaves:
'Hohman's Gold' for white flowers
'Cherokee Sunset' for red/pink flowers

White variegated leaves:
'Cherokee Daybreak' has white flowers and scorch resistant variegated leaves -- leaves turn pink and burgundy in the fall!

There are many other cultivars from double flowering to weeping forms but the above are the best!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

they're such a pretty genus of trees.

Silverdale flowers